After the Moon and Mars, ISRO eyes Venus for next exploration mission


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After the successful launch of its Mars orbiter, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is now viewing Venus as possibly the next planet it can study and explore.

“Besides the Mars-2 mission, we are looking at Venus and even an asteroid for exploration. A project has to be formulated for this before we chart out a proper roadmap for the explorations.  Venus is our neighbour and has many scientific challenges and aspects that need to be studied. Exploring an asteroid is also challenging task,” Dr Kiran Kumar, Isro chairman, told HT.

In 2014, India created history in space when its Mars orbiter slipped into the Red Planet’s orbit in its maiden attempt.

India became the first Asian country to reach Mars and the first in the world to enter the orbit of the planet in its first attempt.

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Photo of Mars as taken by ISRO’s Mars Oriber Mission

Regarding the Saarc satellite, Dr Kumar said that it would be launched before December 2016. “The activities related to this project are in progress and we should begin building the satellite soon.”

Moving beyond satellite launches and planetary explorations, Isro is also aggressively working with many government departments on optimising the usage of space tools and data.

A national meet on space is likely to be held in Delhi next month, where ministries and departments of the government will give presentations on how they are using space tools in their workings. From civil aviation to railways, tribal affairs to health, postal to agriculture the number of government departments working with Isro has increased to more than 60 in the past few months.

Source : HindustanTimes

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The New Horizons Pluto mission is a big deal. Here are Some reasons why


SOURCE : vox.com 

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is about to show us an alien world for the first time. At precisely 7:49 am ET on Tuesday, the probe will become the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto.

New Horizons has been en route for nine years, traveling more than 3 billion miles. The flyby will be over in a matter of minutes, as the probe frantically takes hundreds of photos and collects data on Pluto’s atmosphere, geology, and moons. All this data will be enormously valuable to scientists as they seek to understand our solar system and how it formed billions of years ago.

More than anything, this mission is about broadening our horizons — taking in just a little bit more of the impossibly vast universe we live in.

1) We’ve never seen Pluto before

Pluto feels familiar. It’s easy to imagine the small, frigid rock, millions of miles from the sun and covered in ice.

But what you’re picturing in your head when you think about Pluto is probably an artist’s illustration. Until very recently, we didn’t even know exactly what color it was — and the best photos we had of Pluto looked like this:

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New Horizons is going to change that in a very big way. Already, as it’s closed in on Pluto, it’s given us way better photos than ever before:

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Pluto (right) and its moon Charon, as seen by New Horizons on July 11. (NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI)

The high-resolution photos to come will give us detailed topographical maps, just like those provided by the satellites that orbit Earth. They could reveal mountains, ice caps, volcanoes, or even an ocean of liquid water under the ice. “Who knows what kind of bizarre things we’ll find up close?” Stern said.

2) This mission will remind you how vast space really is

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Earth, as seen by the Voyager spacecraft, from more than 4 billion miles away.

We spend our entire lives on the surface of Earth — so it’s hard to really grasp how far away Pluto truly is from us.

But as an analogy, think of Earth as a basketball. By comparison, Pluto would be a little larger than a golf ball. But if you wanted to keep the scale constant, you’d have to put that golf ball incredibly far away: 50 to 80 miles (depending on its location in orbit). This mission, like many activities in space, is a good reminder of how vast our corner of the universe is — and how absurdly tiny our entire earthly realm of experience is by comparison.

And it’s not just the size of space that boggles the mind. It’s also the timescale on which everything occurs. Pluto takes 248 Earth years to orbit the sun. To put it another way, the entirety of US history has occurred during a single Plutonian orbit.

3) We won’t get many more missions like this for a while

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There’s a mission to Europa planned, but it won’t reach the moon for a decade or more.

The past few decades have been filled with all sorts of fascinating missions to the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets of our solar system — uncrewed probes sent every few years, run by trained scientists, and supported by government funding.

But the sad truth is that this era is largely drawing to a close. As David W. Brown writes in an article on the dark future of American space exploration, “There is nothing budgeted in the pipeline to take its place. Yesterday invested in today. But we are not investing in tomorrow.”

This is the result of cutbacks to NASA’s planetary exploration budget. The OSIRIS-REx probe will launch next year, to travel to an asteroid and bring back a sample, but it won’t return until 2023. Meanwhile, a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is in the works, but it likely won’t be launched until 2025 at the earliest, and wouldn’t reach Europa until the 2030s.

In other words: Enjoy this brief flyby. It’s going to be a while before any NASA probe visits a new world.

4)This is a staggering technological achievement

t’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to send a spacecraft to Pluto. But think of it this way: because it’s so incredibly far away, it took New Horizons nine years to cover the 3-billion-mile trip there — which means the craft is using decade-old technology, traveling a route that was calculated years ago.

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New Horizons’ trajectory through the solar system.

Despite this, NASA engineers managed to get the tiny probe — about the size and shape of a grand piano — to an incredibly precise spot in space, using Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot to accelerate it outward and a few thruster burns over the years to keep the probe on track.

Along the way, they had to worry about potentially damaging debris nearby Pluto — as well as a scary software glitch this past weekend, which was, thankfully, resolved. Now New Horizons is going to fly within 7,750 miles of Pluto, coming closer than its moons.

Because New Horizons is traveling at such a high speed (about 31,000 miles per hour) and can’t slow down, the flyby will be over in a matter of minutes — fording it to collect all its data in a tiny window of time.

And receiving all that data is another huge challenge. Because New Horizons is so far away, it takes about 4.5 hours for any data it sends back to reach Earth. And the signal is so faint that NASA has to use 200-foot-wide radio dishes (one each in Australia, California, and Spain) to pick it up. This means an extremely low rate of data transmission: about 1 kilobit per second, more than 50 times slower than a 56k modem from the ’90s. It takes more than 42 minutes for New Horizons to fully transmit an image that’s 1024 pixels wide.

If you haven’t been paying attention so far, now’s the time to start. This is a really big deal.

NASA’s Dawn Probe Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres as a Crescent


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After spending several weeks in the shadow of Ceres, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is finally getting a close-up glimpse of the dwarf planet.

For Those Who Don’t Know About CERES : Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is composed of rock and ice, is 950 kilometers (590 miles) in diameter, and comprises approximately one third of the mass of the asteroid belt. It is the only dwarf planet in the inner Solar System and the only object in the asteroid belt known to be unambiguously rounded by its own gravity.

Ceres’ cratered north pole blazes through the darkness in new images captured by Dawn on April 10. The photos are the highest-resolution views of the world that Dawn has gotten since entering Ceres’ orbit on March 6, NASA officials said.

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Dawn was about 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet when the pictures were taken, and mission team members promise even better views of Ceres in the months to come.

Full science observations begin April 23, when lighting conditions will be better for Dawn and the probe will be even closer to Ceres — just 8,400 miles (13,500 kilometers) above the surface. Dawn will begin moving even lower down on May 9.

In future weeks, NASA hopes the mission will help scientists better understand a key mystery of Ceres: strange bright spots on its surface that, in some cases, have different temperatures than the terrain surrounding them. Mission scientists still don’t know what the spots are made of.

The $466 million Dawn mission, which launched in September 2007, aims to better characterize the solar system’s early days by studying Ceres and Vesta, two intact protoplanets that are the largest denizens of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The probe spent 14 months at the 330-mile-wide (530-kilometer-wide) Vesta in 2011 and 2012, then headed to Ceres.

Mission scientists said they expect that Ceres, which is about 590 miles (950 km) wide, will be wetter than Vesta, and made of different stuff. Some researchers think Ceres may even harbor liquid water beneath its surface, perhaps making the dwarf planet capable of hosting life as we know it.

Source : NBS-news,Sci-news,Wikipedia

Rosetta images reveal crack hundreds of meters long in comet 67P


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Image of Comet 67P taken by ESA’s Rosetta (Click Image to Download)

The European Space Agency (ESA) succeeded in delivering the Philae lander to the surface of comet 67P several months ago, but its Rosetta probe hasn’t been twiddling its robotic thumbs since then. It’s still in orbit of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko to study the comet as it gets closer to the sun. In the newest set of images published by the ESA, scientists reveal 67P is coming apart at the seams. A huge crack was discovered running hundreds of meters along the surface.

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To visualize what’s happening, it’s important to know a little about the shape of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Many of us have an idea of comets as being more or less round, but many of them are actually quite oddly shaped. For example, 67P has two lobes, one smaller than the other, connected by a narrow neck. It looks a little like a rubber duck. The crack detected by Rosetta’s Osiris camera is in the neck region, which is also where most of the gas and dust is being expelled.

The crack is about one meter in width, which wouldn’t be so impressive if it wasn’t covering such a large area. The neck region where the crack was found is only 1km wide after all, so a few hundred meters is nothing to sneeze at. In the image above, the crack is visible in two locations on the surface, but the middle section is obscured by layers of dust, which the ESA team has found is plentiful on the surface of 67P, especially in the neck region where the object’s minimal gravity is even less substantial.

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67P won’t reach its closest approach to the sun for several months, but it’s already losing more than 11kg of gas and dust every second. Scientists are unsure if the crack will worsen or close up as the comet continues to lose weight. If the stresses on the neck increase, the comet could fracture and break in two .
Some researchers believe that 67P’s shape is the result of two smaller objects colliding in the distant past, so this crack could be following an existing “fault line” in the structure. It’s also possible this crack is nothing out of the ordinary for porous comets like 67P as they erode. It’s hard to say for sure — this is the first time we’ve gotten such a close-up look at a comet.

Rosetta dropped the Philae lander off on 67P back in November, but it didn’t quite go as planned. The lander’s harpoons failed to fire, which caused it to bounce along the surface, eventually coming to rest in a shadow that prevented the solar panels from creating enough power. After doing most of its science, Philae went to sleep. The ESA has continued to monitor conditions on the comet with Rosetta and hopes that when the comet nears the sun, it will shine more light on Philae, allowing it to come back online.

Philae isn’t close enough to the neck region to offer any insights about the newly discovered crack, but it can certainly tell us more about the composition of 67P. Even if Philae never comes back online, Rosetta will keep an eye on the surface from a few kilometers up. It will be there through 67P’s solar perigee in August, and will follow as it heads back out toward Jupiter.

Source : Geek.com

A Pair of Black Holes Could Soon Collide And Destroy Their Galaxy


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One black hole is not to be messed with, let alone two. Astronomers have discovered what appears to be two supermassive black holes just one light-year apart, setting up a collision so massive it could be release as much energy as 100 million supernovas and destroy it’s inside galaxy . Yep.

A Supermassive Black Hole is the largest type of black hole, on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses and are found in the center of almost all massive galaxies.In the case of the Milky Way, the Supermassive black hole is believed to correspond with the location of Sagittarius A*(At the center).

Thankfully, the black holes are far away in a remote galaxy called PG 1302-102. The collision itself, if astronomers have done the calculations right, will happen in the next million years. That’s a pretty unfathomably long time for humans, but just a blink of an eye in cosmic time.

Astronomers are excited about the discovery because a pair of black holes could yield valuable information about theorized but never directly detected gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time that exist according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity. If the two black holes collide, most of the released energy will be in the form of gravitational waves, literally bending the fabric of space-time.

But for now, the pair of black holes still need to be 100 percent confirmed. When two black holes so far away are close to one another, astronomers on Earth can only see it as a particular flicker of light. Astronomers need to rule the flicker out as a statistical anomaly. Still, in the long history of the universe, black holes have almost certainly collided before. Destroying whole galaxies in one fell swoop is not just science fiction.

Source : gizmodo.com

Top 10 great space moments in 2014 (pictures)


Source :c|net

It was a big year for space exploration, from rodeo-riding a comet to getting more familiar with Mars, distant planets and the beginning of it all.

1. Rosetta and Philae meet a comet

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Photo by: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR  (Click Image to Image)

The first successful soft landing on a comet wasn’t just the biggest space story of the year. It was probably also the biggest science story of 2014.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft traveled 10 years to drop the Philae lander onto a comet. The landing was bumpy, but scientists were able to conduct a few days worth of experiments on the comet’s surface that first week.

But neither Rosetta nor Philae may be finished yet.

Look for more great science from both in 2015.

2. Orion lifts off

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Orion lift Off (Click Image to download)

A new era in space exploration began in December with the successful test flight of the Orion spacecraft, thanks to a big assist from some massive, heavy rockets.

Orion is scheduled to make an unmanned trip to the moon, but it is later expected to carry manned missions to an asteroid and Mars.

3. New Horizons awakens

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Artist ‘s Impression of New Horizons near Pluto and its moon Charon (Click Image to Download)

Rosetta wasn’t the only spacecraft to wake up after a long journey in 2014. In December, NASA’s New Horizons probe switched itself back “on” after a 1,873 day-long hibernation.

Originally launched in 2006, the craft is on track for its mission to survey Pluto and its moons in 2015.

4. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

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Mars Picture taken by ISRO’s MOM (Click Image to Download)

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan is a spacecraft orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. It was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is India’s first interplanetary mission and ISRO has become the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and the European Space Agency. It is also the first nation to reach Mars orbit on its first attempt, and the first Asian nation to do so.

5. Comet buzzes Mars

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In October, we got a rare close look at a comet on a once-in-a-million-years journey. The comet came so close to Mars that humanity’s orbiters circling the Red Planet actually had to hide on the other side to avoid the comet’s debris cloud.

The orbiters and rovers on the surface were still able to capture images of the comet as it whizzed by.

6. Exoplanets everywhere

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In 2014, not only did our knowledge of distant exoplanets grow by leaps and bounds, but so did the evidence that many of them might host the elements to support life as we know it.

As of December 15, 2014, we know of 22 planets beyond our solar system where there is reason to believe they could be habitable.

7. Space is still hard

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2014 was not a year without tragedy in space and near-space exploration. In October, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed, killing one pilot.

This came within days of an explosion that happened after the liftoff of an unmanned Antares rocket carrying a payload to the International Space Station. Also, in August a SpaceX rocket exploded over Texas during a test flight.

In a year when science began to make amazing feats look easy, these were three reminders of the old adage that “space is hard.”

8. ALMA’s Image of Another Solar System

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The best image ever of planet formation around an infant star.

It’s a real image of a planet-forming disk around the infant star, in this case a sunlike star approximately 450 light-years from Earth, known to astronomers as HL Tau.

It is impressive. It reveals in great detail what astronomers just a few decades ago were only theorizing about, and that is that all stars are believed to form within slow-spinning clouds of gas and dust. As the clouds spin, they flatten out into these disks. Over time, the dust particles in the cloud begin to stick together by a process known as acretion, and that process is what ultimately forms the planets like our Earth, and moons like our moon, plus the asteroids, all of which mostly still move (as they did in the original cloud) in this flat space – this disk-like space – encircling the parent star.

9.Aiming for Manned Missions to Mars

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In a year when Mars rovers continued to expand our understanding of the Red Planet, momentum continued to build for a manned mission to our distant neighbor.

NASA is looking seriously at “deep sleep” methods to easily get humans to Mars, likely in the 2030s. Elon Musk started talking about getting mankind to Mars in half that time, and Mars One is already looking for astronauts to blast off in less than a decade’s time, despite potential problems.

10. Racing back to the moon

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Mars is cool, but isn’t there more to do on the moon?

Lunar Mission One is just one of the teams that thinks so — it raised about a million dollars for its plan to drill the moon’s south pole.

Meanwhile, teams competing in the Google Lunar XPrize continued working toward returning to our lone natural satellite.

The moon, Mars, comets, asteroids and beyond — stay tuned to @crave to see where we go in 2015.

Comet dust found in Antarctica


Researchers have discovered comet dust preserved in the ice and snow of Antarctica, the first time such particles have been found on Earth’s surface. The discovery unlocks a promising new source of this material. The oldest astronomical particles available for study, comet dust can offer clues about how our solar system formed.

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A single particle of comet dust collected from Antarctic ice, as seen through an electron microscope

“It’s very exciting for those of us who study these kinds of extraterrestrial materials, because it opens up a whole new way to get access to them,” says Larry Nittler, a planetary scientist in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., who was not involved with the research. “They’ve found a new source for something that’s very interesting and very rare.”

Until recently, the only way scientists could collect “chondritic porous interplanetary dust particles,” or comet dust, without going to space has been by flying research planes high in the stratosphere. It’s painstaking work: Several hours of flying time typically yield one particle of dust. Working with such small samples significantly limits the kinds of tests and analysis scientists can perform on the material, says study co-author John Bradley, an astromaterials scientist at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology of the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

The researchers found a bigger haul of the particles in Antarctica, he notes. “Two to four more orders of magnitude mass of material is potentially collectible this way,” he says. “I think it could precipitate a paradigm shift in the way these kinds of materials are collected.”

The dust gathered in Antarctica is also cleaner. Right now, scientists gathering comet dust by plane use plates coated with silicon oil to trap the particles like flies in flypaper. That leaves them contaminated with both the oil and the organic compounds later used to clean them, making it especially difficult for scientists who want to study what organic material they might contain.

Comparing the particles found in Antarctica with the ones collected in the stratosphere will help scientists figure out which components of the dust are part of their natural chemical makeup and which come from contaminants, Nittler says.

In 2010, a team of French scientists reported that they had found dense, unusually carbon-rich comet particles in the Antarctic snow, but this is the first time more typical comet dust has been found and its identity confirmed. Scientists had thought the highly porous, extremely fragile particles couldn’t survive on Earth.

To find them, the researchers collected snow and ice from two different sites in Antarctica over several years, starting in 2000. By melting the ice and filtering the water, they collected more than 3000 micrometeorites, tiny particles from space that were 10 microns in diameter or larger. Analyzing the micrometeorites one by one under a stereomicroscope over a period of 5 years yielded more than 40 particles with the characteristics of comet dust. A closer analysis found they were indistinguishable from comet dust collected in the stratosphere, and they also matched samples collected from the coma of a comet by NASA’s Stardust mission in 2006, the researchers report online ahead of print in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

“Our result shows that such fragile particles can be preserved not only in … snow, but also in ice,” says the study’s lead author, Takaaki Noguchi, a meteorite researcher at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan.

A good next step would be to make a more detailed analysis of the organic material in the particles, says meteorite researcher Cécile Engrand of the Centre de Spectrométrie Nucléaire et de Spectrométrie de Masse of Paris-Sud University in Orsay, a co-author of the earlier French research. “The study of these cometary particles will help shed more light on the material that served for planetary formation,” she says. “They are the best witnesses that we have of that period of time.”

Philae reveals presence of large amount of water ice on the comet


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A comet seen from close up – the surface looks like rock, but is a mixture of water ice, carbonaceous particles and interesting compounds. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR  (Click Image to Download ) 

The European Space Agency has revealed that the comet – 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko “is not nearly as soft and fluffy as it was believed to be”.

The first results to emerge from the team of the SESAME experiment (Surface Electrical, Seismic and Acoustic Monitoring Experiment) confirm that “the strength of the ice found under a layer of dust on the first landing site is surprisingly high”.

“The mechanical properties of 67P will be derived. SESAME’s two other instruments suggest that cometary activity at this landing site is low, as well as revealing the presence of a large amount of water ice under the lander,” Klaus Seidensticker from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research said.

Source : Times of india , SEN Blog

Japan readies asteroid probe for lift off


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Japan will send space probe Hayabusa2 on Sunday (Nov 30) on a six-year mission to mine a distant asteroid, in the hopes of answering some fundamental questions about life and the universe.

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(Click Image to Download)

Japan will send a space probe this weekend on a six-year mission to mine a distant asteroid, just weeks after a European spacecraft’s historic landing on a comet captivated the world’s attention.

Hayabusa2 is set to blast off aboard Japan’s main H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on Sunday (Nov 30). The ¥31 billion (US$260 million) project is sending the kit towards the unpoetically-named 1999 JU3 asteroid in deep space. It will blast a crater in the asteroid to collect virgin materials unexposed to millennia of solar wind and radiation, in the hope of answering some fundamental questions about life and the universe.

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“The asteroid is carbonaceous and we may find organic matter and water, the stuff of life,” Hitoshi Kuninaka, project leader at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said in an interview posted on the agency’s website. Analysing the extra-terrestrial materials could help shed light on the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago and offer clues about what gave rise to life on Earth, he said.

Hayabusa2, about the size of a domestic refrigerator, is expected to reach the asteroid in mid-2018 and will spend around 18 months studying the surface. It will also drop tiny MINERVA-II rover robots as well as a French-German landing package named Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) for surface observation.

GALACTIC FIRST

In a galactic first, Hayabusa2 will drop an “impactor” that will explode above the asteroid’s surface and fire a metal bullet into the crust at a speed of 7,200 kilometres an hour – six times the speed of sound on Earth. The bullet is expected to create a small crater that will enable the probe to collect material from the asteroid. “The impactor is made fully with Japanese technologies that are so advanced you would think they are out of this world,” said Kuninaka.

The Hayabusa2 mission will blast off just weeks after the European Space Agency succeeded in making mankind’s first-ever landing on a comet this month. Scientists said initial data sent from the robot lab Philae showed traces of organic molecules and a surface much harder than imagined.

Philae, released from its mothership Rosetta, has gone into hibernation on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, having used its onboard battery power after 60 hours of prodding and probing. Engineers hope the lander’s solar panels will charge its batteries in the coming months as the comet, with Philae hopefully still clinging to its surface, moves closer to the Sun.

If the Hayabusa2 mission goes well, pristine asteroid samples will be returned to Earth in late 2020. JAXA aims to bring 100 milligrams (1/286th of an ounce) of samples to Earth after a round trip of more than five billion kilometres.

The probe is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa – the Japanese term for falcon – which returned to Earth in 2010 with dust samples after a trouble-plagued seven-year mission.

The spherical 1999 JU3 asteroid, which is around a kilometre across, is believed to contain significantly more organic matter and water than the potato-shaped rock studied by the original Hayabusa. Despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey, including intermittent loss of communication and damage to its motors, the first Hayabasa was hailed as a triumph of science when it returned to Earth.

Source : Channel news asia

Philae’s Incredible Comet-Landing Sequence Shows Up In Fresh Rosetta Images


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Images from the Rosetta spacecraft show Philae drifting across the surface of its target comet during landing Nov. 12, 2014. Credit: ESA/Rosetta

New images released from the Rosetta spacecraft orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko show the spacecraft coming in for its (first) landing on Wednesday (Nov. 12). “The mosaic comprises a series of images captured by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera over a 30 minute period spanning the first touchdown,” wrote the European Space Agency in a blog post today (Monday).

This is just the latest in a series of images coming from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft showing the Philae lander coming in for its rendezvous with 67P. A major next step for the mission will be figuring out where the lander actually came for a rest, but there’s plenty of data from both Rosetta and Philae to comb through for this information, ESA said.

What’s known for sure is Philae made three touchdowns on the comet — making history as humanity’s first soft-lander on such an object — stopping in a shady area that will make recharging its solar panels difficult. The spacecraft is in hibernation as of Friday (Nov. 17) and scientists are really, really hoping it’s able to charge up for another science session soon. Rosetta, meanwhile, is hard at work above and will continue to follow the comet in 2015.

Source : universe today

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